I recently asked a 20-something who’s running a startup a probing question and he answered, “Oh, that’s the $64,000 question.” Then he pondered, “Where did that expression come from? $64,000 won’t do me very much good.” (A: A game show in the 1950′s; prior to that a phrase meaning a difficult question.) While probably none of us would balk at getting a $64,000 check, in this day of five dollar lattes and 100 million dollar lotteries, mere thousands seem like chump change. Even small ideas need BIG money to reach the market. While Kickstarter is a great place to start, it often takes more than “generous donations” to succeed. So where do you go to get funds? What must you absolutely—or absolutely not—do?
At last month’s Sandbox Summit, we held a session for companies to pitch new ideas to angel investors. It was co-sponsored by LearnLaunch, a non-profit organization that helps mentor innovative education technology companies in New England through classes, peer group learning, conferences, networking, and more. The pitches were moderated by Jean Hammond, a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years experience in the high-tech industry, an active angel investor herself, and the co-founder of LearnLaunchX, an accelerator program for ed tech startups.
One of the things both pitchers and viewers realized is that a concise, as well as compelling, message is key. Attention spans are short. Competition is high. Hammond sees pitching for funds as an opportunity to start a conversation. She says that the goal is to make sure that the person being pitched is not only intrigued, but understands the product, the market, the people involved, and the stage of your product. All, in under 5 minutes. In other words, do your homework and target your message to your present audience. Unlike the quick deal-makers on Shark Tank, engaged investors will want to learn a lot more about you and your product before making a commitment.
Be realistic about your timing. Many startups take over a year to get product made and entry trials done. Two to five years of growth is not uncommon. For most high-growth startups, the trick is to find the right advisors to get the product going. Once you’ve got traction, Hammond believes that institutional VCs (who invest about $25B annually) or angel investors (who add about $22B more) could be a perfect fit.
An advisory board serves different purposes at different stages. Early on, Hammond recommends finding people to help you figure out a marketing strategy, those who can help complete the product, or experts who can help find complementary team members. As your product develops, you may need to assemble more high profile advisors who can open key doors, be impressive to investors, and, of course, be useful for the business.
For more pitching tips or to learn more about the LeanLaunch Accelerator program, visit LearnLaunch.org.
As always, I’d love to hear your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.